By Diane Barstow

Acts Introduction

Today we’ll take a look at the state of the Disciples, the state of the world, and watch an animation of the first half of Acts provided by “The Bible Project”. Then I will give a very brief fly-over view of the book of Acts, resting on the 3 aspects of Jesus’ final instructions.

A) The state of the disciples

They were riding an emotional roller-coaster. Passover high, Jesus’ arrest and betrayal by Judas low, they all deserted Him shame, Jesus’ death by crucifixion devastation, strange unbelievable tales from the women that He was alive confusion, they see and touch the risen Lord yay, intermittent contact for 40 days (this number is super-significant - we’ll get into that next week), His greatest and final commandment and promise - be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth?? But first wait in town until you are baptized with the Holy Spirit, then He ascends into heaven without setting up a political kingdom on earth - um what? Then 10 more days of patiently waiting for the big event on Pentecost! I’d say they were waiting in patient obedience for the power that Jesus had promised them. Did they recall His words in John 16 where He revealed to them that it would be to their advantage if He left, and sent the Holy Spirit to take His place? Did they remember His explanation of what the Holy Spirit would do for them in John 14? He said so much to them that final night together, did they remember any of it?

B) Next, we need to look at the known world at this time. The world in which Jesus came as a fetus, was born and lived a human life, the world of His nation, the world in perfect ripeness! BTW the very fact that the Lord chose to enter this world as a fetus lends authority to the pro-life movement. We also know from scripture that the first person (other than His mother) to exult in HIs presence was also a fetus - John the Baptist in his mother Elizabeth’s womb!! At no other time in history was it possible for the church to be born, and for the message of the gospel to be preached to the ends of the earth!

What do you mean, Diane? What made this time so ripe? Civilization, communication, sea-faring and roads to travel on - the Roman empire.

This is a map of the known world - the greatest extent of the Roman empire.

Up to this point, since the flood civilization had progressed from families, to settlements, to cities, tribes. The Sumerians were the first to settle down for the purpose of agriculture, until then humans had been nomadic herdsmen. Animal husbandry began in the Indus valley of modern Pakistan. Along came the Hittites, Babylonians (the code of Hammurabi), the Chaldeans - Abram of Ur of the Caldeans, (think Nebuchadnezzar & the Hanging Gardens) the Persians, Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the great led the Greek empire (the greek language was the first ‘universal’ tongue since the tower of babel!) And finally, we have Trajan who really established the Roman empire militarily. At this same time there were civilizations growing on nearly every continent! Think of all the other civilizations world-wide - Africa, Australia, Northern Europe, Eurasia, China, Japan, N&S America - the unknown world! The Phonecians introduced sea-faring, the Medes, Egyptians, Cretans, Mycenaeans, independent city states (Corinth, Athens, Sparta) the Etruscans who began writing the greek alphabet, Roman kings, then a roman republic, then finally ruled by a succession of Caesars! The Romans systematically conquered the Mediterranean countries, south to north africa, west all the way to Great Britain. This is a list of modern countries included in the greatest extent of the Roman empire - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Kuwait, Judea, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Sudan, Portugal, Spai, Andorra, England, France, Monaco, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Italy, San Marino, Malta, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Hungary, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria. Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Legionnaires constructed roads, bridges water-works such as aqueducts, fortifications, tunnels, pools, fountains, public baths, and sewers. The ‘known world’ was prepared for the gospel to be preached in an universal language, it could travel by sea or by road. Ideas travel with people, think slaves from every military conquest, ideas such as religions - idolatry, sacrifices to insure prosperity or removal of plague, or drought, or famine. Only the Jews worshiped the One True God, all other peoples were enslaved to idols. It was and is God’s plan to free people from their slavery and bring light into their darkness. In chapter 4 Luke records Jesus, in the Nazareth synagogue, reading Isaiah 61:1-2 . He then claims that very prophecy was fulfilled in their hearing. The Jews were very upset that He brought up salvation for the gentiles. It was God’s plan from the inception of Judaism to bring salvation to the world (see Genesis 12)! Jesus told the woman at the well that salvation is of the Jews!

Here is the fly-over of the book, noting things to look out for:

I’ve divided Acts into 3 parts per the Great Commission - in Acts 1:7-8, ‘He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”’ And ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I command you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ (Matt 28:19-20) In 2 weeks, Diane C. will delve into chapter 2 and the world-altering blessing of Pentecost, so stay tuned.

Part 1 Jerusalem - the first 8 chapters take place in Jerusalem highlighted by Peter’s bold preaching of the cross and Stephen’s martyrdom. Then we’re introduced to Paul the Apostle. But previously, (he was Saul the zealous) starting with his approval of Stephen’s stoning, Saul began to ravage the church and precipitated the first diaspora of Christian Jews from Jerusalem. Dear Barnabas extended the hand of fellowship and introduced Paul to the Apostles. Once Paul was saved, he returned to Jerusalem from Damascus and contended with the Jews until it was determined that he was no longer safe there. The brethren took him to Caesarea and sent him by ship home to Tarsus.

Part 2 Judea & Samaria in chapters 8-11 we see Philip in Samaria, Peter in Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea, performing miracles. And in 11, he returns to recount how EVEN GENTILES received the gift of the Holy Spirit - exactly as they had, which opened the door to global evangelism.

BTW - in 11:16 Peter is reporting on his vision, his interaction with gentiles, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, he, for the first time in Scripture (I believe) directly quotes Jesus as saying, ‘And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, “John baptized you with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”’

Part 3 the ends of the earth - as persecution from the Jews increased, the church moved eastward to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, where Barnabus was dispatched by the church to encourage the Jewish and greek (gentile) believers there. Barnabus then went to Tarsus (after a 12 year gap) to retrieve Paul. thus begins the fulfillment of the ‘ends of the earth’ portion of the great commission. The Apostles seemed very comfortable in Jerusalem, perhaps God used this persecution to dislodge them so they could fulfill His commission? In the same way God used the horror of the Holocaust to bring Jews back to Israel and make them a nation again?

Acts Chapter 1

In order to look forward, we need to visit the past a little bit. Turn to Luke 1 and 24, in this final chapter of his first account to Theophilus, for whom an orderly history (in 2 parts) was written. “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Luke 1: 1-4 Fun fact, Luke is the only gentile author included in the NT. Theophilus is a Greek word which means “God lover,” most excellent is a term of high regard, used to address men of prominent rank or office. Some scholars suggest this isn’t addressed to an individual believer, but to all God-lovers, others think these two volumes are a written defense of the faith to a Roman official. I lean toward a 3rd option - that he was a newer disciple of Christ because of that tiny term taught, this word katecheo, from which we get catechism, means to teach foundational truths as they relate to progressing in the Christian life. Kata implies exactly indicating how oral instruction skilfully brought a subject from one level to another to reach a precise and growing understanding. So he was being taught the truth and foundational doctrines of the Kingdom of God! That he was a person of some importance is written into the greeting “most excellent” G2903 kratistos which means mightiest, strongest, noblest, illustrious, used in addressing men of prominent rank or office. Speculations suggest he was Luke’s owner (as many doctors were slaves) or patron who sponsored the travel and writing of these 2 accounts.

Turn to Luke 24 we read the account of the day of Christ’s resurrection, the women at the tomb have a conversation with two men in dazzling clothing, (watch for these 2, I believe they make another appearance) some of the disciples run to the tomb to confirm their report that Jesus was not there, 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus meet the risen Lord and He gives them an extensive bible study about the suffering of the Messiah. “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” Luke 24:27. These two ran back to Jerusalem and told the others that they had seen Jesus. As they were speaking Jesus Himself stood among them. Thinking He was a ghost, He showed them His hands and feet, and ate something with them. Then He opened all their minds to what was written about Him in the law of Moses, the prophets, and psalms. He tells them that, “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem.” That they would be His witnesses, that He is sending the promise of the Father upon them, and to not leave Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high. Then He was carried up into heaven. Now Acts picks up where part 1 ends, with another dedication and a little bit more detail.

Jesus could have just appeared to His disciples only once, and then ascended into heaven. He could have only appeared to the 11, plus the women, why then did He stick around for 40 days and why is this significant?

Here’s a time-line of Jesus’ recorded appearances I found: Easter; Mary Magdalene, the women at the tomb, Peter mid-day, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, 10 disciples (minus Thomas & Judas). The next week; 11 disciples, 500 believers, James & 72 disciples, Peter & 7 disciples in Galilee (Peter, do you love me, asked once per denial, and he was restored), {John 21:15-17} great commission gathering, His ascension, and finally to Saul on the road to Damascus.

The significance of Him presenting Himself alive, displaying convincing proofs, teaching them concerning the KOG. The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus testify and prove that He is alive and did indeed gain victory over death. The believers are not called to have blind faith. They can accept the resurrection of Christ, the most significant event in history, as truth. The resurrection of Christ is the hope of all believers and the surety that they too will be resurrected after death at the second coming of Christ. Paul wrote, “In a moment in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible. And we the alive shall be changed … then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ 1 Cor 15:52, 54

The significance of 40 days - is a very fundamental number in scripture. It signifies judgment or testing throughout scripture. 40 days & nights of rain (Genesis). Moses’ life was divided into 40 year segments, 40 years as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 40 years in Midian, & 40 years herding recalcitrant Hebrews in the wilderness where they ate manna for 40 years. Moses spoke with God on the mountain 40 d\n, and the spies scouted the land of milk and honey for 40 days, Goliath tormented the Israeli army for 40 d\n, Jesus fasted and was tempted by Satan himself for 40 d\n. So the disciples were being tested during those 40 days so THEY could grasp the genuineness of their faith, (1 Pet 1:7) understand the complete gospel message as Jesus revealed it to them, to acquire the power of the Holy Spirit to recount their eye-witness testimony. A lot to do in 40 short days, as it was said, these were ‘uneducated and untrained’ men, not scholars. And then they were instructed to wait ANOTHER 10 days until Pentecost for the “promise of the Father” to be fulfilled.

Pentecost - what was this holiday all about? “The day of Pentecost was the 50th day after Passover, 7 full weeks {the number of completion}. It celebrated the winter (late) harvest of wheat by offering the first fruits of the harvest in the form of two loaves made of fine flour. Under the prevalence of the Greek language, the name Pentecost, which is the Greek adjective meaning 50th.”

“So, in this particular time we are reading about. We have had Passover, THE Passover when the REAL Passover lamb was offered for the sins of the world. Then we had the feast of First Fruits, which fell on resurrection Sunday. The resurrection Sunday, when Jesus rose as the first fruit of all who would be raised. Then the next feast on the Jewish calendar was Pentecost (50 days after Passover) where traditionally 2 loaves of bread were waived before the Lord, the fulfillment taking place in two stages, first the harvest of Jews on the day of Pentecost, and later the Gentiles at Cornelius' House.”

4-5) He instructs them to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the Promise of the Father - a baptism similar to John’s, but with the Holy Spirit for power instead of with water for repentance.

6-8) To answer their question regarding the establishment of His earthly kingdom, Jesus said it was for God to know alone, but THIS IS for you - the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit in their very beings.

9-11) He gathered them together in Bethany, on the Mount of Olives (a sabbath-day’s walk allowance) to say His final blessing and commandment then was taken up from their sight in a cloud. As they stood there gaping at the now-empty sky, two shining men asked them a question (very similar to the question, I believe those same to fellas asked the women at the tomb {Luke 24:4-8}), “Men of Galilee, whatchalookin for? He’s gone, but will return in like manner.”

15) Peter’s leading of the choice to replace Judas by casting lots. What qualifies a person to replace Judas in the 12? Peter’s definition was that the man had to have followed Jesus from the beginning, and was an eye-witness of His resurrection.

Did they misapply scripture BEFORE they were filled with the Spirit? It’s almost like choosing your day’s outfit in a dark closet! Chuck Smith says, “It is important to note that this was the last time they ever sought to know the will of God by casting lots. Once the Holy Spirit was given to the church, they looked instead to the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit.” There is no evidence one way or the other that Matthias had any impact in the early church.